INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana center Noah Vonleh is projected as a top-10 NBA draft choice in part because of his versatility and ability to score in multiple ways.
On Thursday, each and every one was shut down, and Vonleh was defended as well as he has been all year. Illinois coach John Groce sent extra help on the catch. Vonleh finished with six points and five rebounds, missing six of nine shots.
“Every time I caught the ball they would send a guy over quick and double team right away,” Vonleh said. “They did a pretty good job. That's on me to find different ways to score.”
In two regular-season games against Illinois, Vonleh shot a combined 4 for 12. Groce might double, but it all starts with Vonleh's primary defender: Nnanna Egwu. Egwu is a beast, especially so in Illinois' 64-54 win over the Hoosiers to open the Big Ten tournament.
“We watched on film that he was real physical,” Vonleh said. “He came out real physical today.”
Egwu blocked five shots, smothered pick-and-rolls and played 36 minutes.
“Egwu was a factor in the paint,” Indiana guard Stanford Robinson said. “He actually played his butt off today in the paint. I didn't expect him to be there as many times as he was. That changed my whole mindset a little bit.”
Vonleh started despite an inflamed left foot. Teammate Yogi Ferrell emphatically said the injury did not contribute to Vonleh's performance, but coach Tom Crean certainly thought so.
“He was very limited in practice this week,” Crean said. “The injury, it's part of it. I think you can see that in his energy at times in the game. There's no question that missing (two) games bothered him.”
Vonleh declined to discuss his plans for next season, but Ferrell addressed the situation.
“Noah is going to make the best decision for himself and his family,” Ferrell said. “Whatever decision he makes, we're going to be behind him 100 percent. We'll get a couple more shooters next year. If Noah comes back, we can make a run for the NCAA championship.”
SHUT OUT: Reserve guard Evan Gordon was scoreless in 11 minutes, continuing a season-long trend of outings in which he makes little to no impact.
Often, Gordon has been tentative, and one play Thursday exemplified it. The guard was open behind the arc, caught a pass and after hesitation took a couple dribbles to launch a long 2. After the game, he opened up more than he ever has before about his struggles.
“Coming into any new program you have to learn the staff and the different plays and pick and choose where you want to stand out,” Gordon said. “It's a lot different feeling. My season is not what I expected. Just the experience was good for me throughout the year.”